The Awori are peaceful, coastal agro-fishery and distinct Yoruboid-speaking people that forms a sub-ethnic group of the larger Yoruba people of West Africa, particularly in Nigeria and Benin. The Awori are found in large concentrated in Ogun State and Lagos State, Nigeria.
Zangbeto cultural troupe of Awori people of Badagryland
The Awori who are organized set of people share common cultural values in varying degrees with other Yoruba and Edo groups. Though the Awori are mainly Yoruba speakers, but due to trans-national and inter-ethnic interactions, the majority of the Awori Yoruba of coastal southwestern
Nigeria is bilingual, speaking the Yoruba and Ogu languages (previously erroneously referred to as Egun). Such Awori Yoruba peoples are found at Apa, Igbogbele, Iworo, among others. The Ogu are also bilingual, speaking both the Ogu and Yoruba languages and they are found across coastal south western Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. the Awori Ogu of the Badagry coastal area of southwestern Nigeria.
The legendary hunter Ogunfunminire was their progenitor and he traces his origin or secondary affinity to Ile Ife, the cradle of Yoruba civilization and culture and undoubtedly class. Ogunfunminire in his travel from Ile Ife first founded Isheri with other migrants who were probably hunters like him. According to Awori traditions, before migrating to Isheri, Ogunfunminiri consulted Ifa oracle which counseled the migration. It is said that Ogunfunminiri and his friend Adeyemi Onikoye, also a great hunter left their home for a hunting expedition and overstayed thereby absenting themselves from the funeral of their father. Their relations thinking them dead, put their junior brother on the throne and this annoyed the two powerful princes when they arrived.
However, they were afraid of the great damage they might cause if they decide to fight hence, the Olofin took the calabash which was willed to him by his great father. The tradition continued that he followed the movement of the ritual pot on water until it sank and they settled in the region. The name AWORI, translates as "The plate sank". It was adopted as the group`s name till today. The formation of Isheri was the nucleus of other Awori settlements such as Iro, Ogudu, Agboyi, Ojo Ado-Ode,Ota etc. The establishment of Lagos Island, Eko by Edo (Bini) man Aromire would seem to have encouraged members of his immediate family and other Awori groups to settle in other parts of Lagos Island such as Itolo, Ikoyi, Iru. Ajiran, and other parts of Lagos by the Lagoon. While the Awori were consolidating their hold on the Island and it immediate vicinity, the Edo speaking people of Benin Kingdom founded a settlement at Enu Owa, near their Awori brethren and with time, their presence had profound effect on the evolution of traditional institution in Lagos.
Another tradition pointed out that Adeyemi Onikoye of Lagos (Bini or Edo settlement formerly known as Eko/Oko by the Yoruba) was given in the will of their father, a crown of beads, Ifa Oracle Olokun deity, Awo Ipa, Osugbo and the gods of his father Lakaba. On getting to Isheri, Adeyemi consulted Olokun the goddess of the ocean who counseled another migration for him and he moved until he got to Ikoye.
Eyo masquerade of Awori people of Lagos. Circa 1912
It is clear that Awori people are conglomeration of Yoruba migrants. Fabuyi (1987) citing authors Agiri and Barnes echoed this point: "There are strong indication that people now known as Awori represent a long and uneven movement of people from Ketu, Egbado, Oyo and no doubt, other regions who were forced by warfare and slave raids and this was occurring as early as 14th and 15th centuries prior to and perhaps extending into the same period that saw Bini (Edo/Benin) March Southwards. (emphasis mine)
The Awori are distinguished by four main characteristics; the language which is of Yoruba dialect, traditions of ancestral migration from Ile Ife, traditions of common descent from Oduduwa, the eponymous hero of the Yoruba and traditions of consanguineous relationship resulting from the ancestry of ruling classes and cultural heritage as well as diffusion through migration and interaction. Awori Yoruba dialect remained a uniform force among the various groups; an Awori identifies himself with another Awori by greeting term "Kitigbe o?" (How are you?) and the familiar response is "O gbe re" (It is fine).
The Awori could be grouped into two major divisions. These are the early Awori and the latter Awori groups. Among the early Awori group of settlement are Isheri, Otto-Olofin, Iddo, Ebute Metta, Apa, Ibereko as well as Otta and Ado-Odo in Ogun state of Nigeria. A common feature of these settlements is that they were founded before 1500. They also have a related migratory history and recognise Ogunfunminire as their progenitor. The later settlement include Ojo, Itire, Mushin, Iba, Otto-Awori, Ijanikin, Ilogbo Elegba, Ilogbo-Eremi, Iworo, Agbara etc all of which are post 1500 settlements.
It must be noted that in Ogun State, the settlement of the Awori people preceded the establishment of Abeokuta as an Egba kingdom in 1830. Otta, the foremost Awori town within present day Ogun State, which is also the State’s industrial nerve-centre, for instance, was already in existence in the 15th century. The first crowned Oba at Ota was Oba Akinsewa Ogbolu in 1621, while the first Alake in Abeokuta, Sagbua Okekenu was crowned on 8th August 1854.
The Awori constitute the bulk of the indigenous population of seventeen, out of the twenty local government areas of Lagos State as at the year 2003, the only exceptions being Epe, Ikorodu and Ibeju-Lekki with minimal Awori inhabitants. In these areas, they have developed many kingdoms and chiefdoms.
Ogogo kulodo masquerade from Ota Awori in Ogun State
On the other hand, the Badagry area is important historically to Awori people because it is one of the first places to have had contact with the outside world. It is, in fact, commonly referred to as the gateway to Christianity in Nigeria, for it was at Badagry town that Christianity was first preached in Nigeria in September 1842. Christmas was celebrated there on December 25 of that year (Wheno Aholu Menu Toyi I—the Akran of Badagry, 1994; Alabi, 1996). The first storied building in Nigeria was also built there in 1845. The town also served as an important terminus during the trans-Saharan trade and the notorious trans-Atlantic slave trade (Ogunremi et al., 1994).
The Awori speak a distinct North-West Yoruba (NWY) dialect of Yoruboid languages that belong to the larger Niger-Congo language group. The Awori as a sub-group possesses a distinguished speech.
An anthropologist, W.G. Wormalin in his Intelligence Report on the Badagry district of the colony (1935) gives a graphic description of the early Awori when he writes that:
"They speak low and slurred dialect of the Yoruba language. They mostly engage in farming and fishing. Their lack of figure and unity seems to have combined with the unfavourable nature of their habitat to render them a ‘poor’ lot from the breeding point of view with the exception of those of them within the region of Lagos from earliest time to date."
As explained earlier Awori are bilianghual. They speak Yoruba, Ogun and Edo (bini) languages.
Awori Yoruba people of Lagos at traditional wedding gathering
In the distant past, agriculture was the main economic activity of Aworiland. The original Awori inhabitants practiced crop farming, poultry farming, and cattle/sheep rearing, fishing and hunting on a small scale. Of all these, the people concentrated more on crop farming and fishing.
Crop farming was of two geographical categories: compound farmland called Oko-Etile and distant farmland called Oko Egan. It is in Oko Egan that most of the permanent crops like cocoa, palm trees and crops of commercial value like maize cocoyams, cassava, guinea corn etc, were grown. The Oko Etile is marked by cultivation of garden crops such as pepper, tomatoes and onions, Okro lemons, melon, vegetables, pumpkins, and soya beans, etc (Olatunji, 1998). Oko Etile was visited at short intervals, particularly when there was the possibility of the farmer having an important
visitor at home. On the other hand, Oko Egan was usually located at a far distance and the farmer usually spent a relatively longer period there compared to the Oko Etile.
Swamp farming was very common in Aworiland. On these swamp farms, vegetables, rice, maize and other consumables were cultivated. Though, the women did not feature prominently in farming but they had the responsibility of accompanying their husbands to the farm in order to assist them particularly during the harvesting of farm products, such as cassava. The women processed them into finished products such as gari, the staple food of all Aworis. The women harvested, peeled, washed and processed the cassava into either gari or fufu.
The peasant farmers also practiced some form of animal husbandry. They engaged themselves in
keeping and rearing of such animals as goats, sheep, short-horned cattle, local pigs and domestic fowls in family compounds. These animals, with the exception of fowls are kept in special places (within the family compound) variously called Ogbo Maalu, Ogbo Ewure, Ogbo Elede etc. as the case may be. These animals were usually taken to the field by young children for pasture or they are fed with cassava or other edible leaves while other people kept their animals within the
compound and fed them or practiced guarded pasturing in order to avoid conflicts with other farmers in case the animals destroy the crops.
The Awori also engaged in fishing. This is done either early in the morning, late in the evening or night depending on the fishing implement to be used and the weather condition. The people,
particularly, the women engaged in swamp fishing. They usually had a field day during the dry season when the swamps were relatively dry, thereby allowing unhindered access to the fish. There was also fishing through the use of combination of hooks and nets. The hooks, armed with bait, such as earthworms, are set in the water with a float on the surface of the water. The float helps the fisherman in knowing whether a fish had been trapped or not (i.e the float sinks whenever fish is caught). The fisherman may go to river the following day to collect his catch, or wait around until a catch is made, depending on the period of the day. In addition, the people fished via the use of Ogu, a conical basket-like trap made from Opa, raffia palm fronds. This trap that permits only water to flow in between the woven pieces is tied to some reeds or a strong tree at the edge of the
river. As the river flows, the fish which are unaware of the trap enter it and remain there until the fisherman comes for inspection. The economic value of this venture was that the fish were sometime sold fresh to standby
customers or taken home to be preserved through
smoking before selling at the neighborhood market
usually at a higher value than the fresh type.
Traditionally, Awori women performed such roles as cooking, washing, fetching of firewood, drawing water, nursing and cleaning of their surroundings. Among the Iba clan, they cleaned the markets and swept the whole town, from its centre to Oba Oyonka’s shrine and to the Oniba’s palace (Balogun, 1999).
Women also served as the earliest set of teachers for the child. They tutored them on pronunciation, greeting, dressing, toileting and bodily care. Furthermore, women helped their husbands in fishing and farming activities. They carried cassava, maize, banana, coconut, vegetables and sea foods to the market for sale. They also engaged in food processing and preservation, gathering and processing of local herbs for medical purpose. Indeed, women in Aworiland contributed greatly to the physical and mental well-being of their communities. Some of
these women, variously called Iya Alagbo or Elewe Omo, were traditional physicians and chemists who saved many people from dying from curable diseases. The women were highly skilled in the preparation and utilization of traditional medicine. As early as the pre- 1900 period, there were medicine for curing various diseases, keeping away evil forces and attracting prosperity (Ajetunmobi, 1996).
Women also contributed immensely to the socio-cultural festivals of the area. As an illustration,
women featured in varying degrees in the festivals of Gelede, Oro, Ogun and Egungun. In fact, the Iya Agan performed a central role during Egungun festival. After obtaining the Oba’s consent, the Iya Agan in conjuction with Alaagba (head of all Egungun worshippers), proceeds to make necessary arrangements for the conduct of a successful festival. She joined the Alaagba at the Igbale for necessary preliminary rituals. The Iya Agan also performed the responsibilities of informing her associates about arrangements, including the date and attire for the festival (Balogun, 1999).
According to tradition, the Agan who is the traditional spiritual leader of Egungun is like a son to Iya
Agan. Significantly, without Iya Agan no Agan could come out and no Egungun festival could take place. Iya Agan is a post held by a woman who is next in rank to Alaagba. She is the head of the female wing of Egungun adherents. She is highly respected by the cult to the extent that she is allowed access to the Igbale, generally a no-go-area for women. Moreover, all masquerades
and females pay homage to her during the festival. She performs spiritual functions of holding Isan (a special cane), giving the sword to special Egungun, handing over religious power to them and withdrawing it during the visitation to Igbale (Ajetunmobi, 1996)
The Oloris (kings wives) and Iya Oba (kings mother) also performed important roles in the traditional socio-political set-up of Awori. These women gave moral and psychological support to the Oba. They were usually gaily dressed, and sat around him, particularly during ceremonies in the palace. It was unheard of for an Olori to abandon the side of the Oniba during such occasions. Sometimes the Oloris treated the Oba to dance steps. They also coordinated and oversaw feeding and other domestic requirements. In the contemporary period, women in Iba still perform much of the traditional roles, although to a lesser degree due to the effects of modernization.